* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Geetha Murali is the CEO of Room to Read.
Countless organizations have made well-intentioned commitments to improve learning outcomes to achieve U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 4. Yet, we know the world continues to face an education crisis, with recent data showing that six out of 10 children and adolescents are failing to reach basic proficiency levels in reading and math. How do we bridge this gap and accelerate progress so that quality education for all becomes a reality rather than remaining an impossibility?
Partnerships between the public and private sectors can create social change for the most vulnerable communities. A collaboration between multi-sector stakeholders, public-private partnerships take on various forms, but can all play a critical role in achieving global scale and local impact. Here’s why.
The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts
The international development community is rigorously developing, implementing and assessing interventions to create a literate young generation. We understand that the private sector has the capital to invest and that governments have additional resources and the jurisdiction to change curriculums and set legislation.
Their commitment to collaborate can be game-changing. Each partner can use its unique power and, together, enable an environment where innovation can flourish, and impact can be achieved at scale. This is why partnerships are key to providing quality education for all children – the resources, appetite and innovation to drive progress are there. We can transform a country’s education system.
Private Funding Allows Critical Flexibility
Among non-profits that have achieved $50 million in annual revenues — only .001% of all U.S. based non-profits founded since 1975 — 90% of them rely on one type of investment to drive growth. This source is public funds often accompanied by restrictions that limit an organization’s ability to pivot in the best interest of outcomes.
A diverse funding model with multiple revenue streams is an asset to an organization looking to scale its impact. A private funding base — through individuals, foundations, and corporations — provides the flexibility to continue implementing what is working and change what isn’t quickly. Singular injections of large sums of international aid money without reliable long-term partners on the ground will struggle to build sustainable solutions. Magic happens when high quality programs are developed, tested and refined by innovative multi-sector partners unified by a common goal.
In Indonesia, successive investments of Credit Suisse, IKEA Foundation, Google.org into a network of local NGOs alongside a trusted relationship with the Ministry of Education, is spurring a culture of reading. These multiple private funds are developing a network of libraries, children’s storybooks, and digital professional development tools that are being implemented across the country and alongside national curriculum.
Lasting Change Happens at a System Level
In Vietnam, only 17% of primary schools have libraries. Of those one third do not have adequate space and in more than half, children are not allowed to check out books. To solve the country-wide challenge, there is an initiative to nationalize school libraries through a ‘model-libraries’ partnership across all 63 provinces between Room to Read and the Ministry of Education. School libraries are established in three forms: libraries fully supported by Room to Read, libraries operating through a combination of Room to Read and government support, and libraries fully implemented by the government.
This “I do, we do, you do” model is transforming national school libraries in a manner that is sustainable and locally led, tripling the number of communities impacted within five years with an end goal to reach all primary schools in the country. One hundred percent of provinces that implemented the Room to Read model are now establishing libraries under the same design utilizing government resources. Without the local government as a key player, the impact of individual libraries would be inconsequential in the effort to scale impact. Additional capital from Dubai Cares is helping to reach more children faster.
Public-private partnerships are complex and challenging collaborations between multiple parties. However, with committed players leveraging resources and expertise, a flexible funding model, and a local contextualized approach, partnerships can play a critical role in educating millions of children that would otherwise be left behind.